BEACONS OF LIGHT
A Catholic parish exists for the sake of her neighbors. Jesus said, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come” (Mark 1:38). This is the call to evangelize, lived together by activated disciples, propelled by the love of God from a vibrant parish into a suffering world, to draw others into a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. Jesus sent out his disciples with an unencumbered urgency: “As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick” (Matthew 10:7-10). Speaking prophetically in 1969, then Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, a theological adviser at the Second Vatican Council, wrote, “[The Church] will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members…. It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church” (Faith and the Future, Ignatius Press, 2009). Soon after that statement was made, in 1970 the Archdiocese of Cincinnati published an updated listing of parishes and priests, referred to as the Clerus. From 1970 to today, there has been a 10% reduction in the number of parishes in southwest Ohio and an 80% drop in the number of active priests. Along with this has been a decline at all levels of participation in the life of the local church by the lay faithful. Simply put, in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, our Catholic infrastructure was built for a different era: Graphic courtesy Beacons of Light, CatholicAOC.org/beacons We are still bearing the weight on maintaining facilities from the mindset before the prescient vision of Fr. Ratzinger, who in time the Holy Spirit anointed as Pope Benedict XVI. Practically speaking, returning to the apostolic following of Jesus on mission requires a willingness to let go of the maintenance overhead of any properties, buildings, and facilities that were acquired at a different time for a different purpose than the missionary effort necessary now. This we come to the third paradigm shift essential for parish renewal: from a Focus on Maintenance to Mission. It’s too easy for our focus to be entirely on the inner life of our parish community. We are third. Love God, love neighbor. We are third! Therefore, parish leaders will generate pastoral plans that move the parish toward an outward focus on missionary activity. For deeper insight into moving from maintenance to mission, check out From Christendom to Apostolic Mission: Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age by Msgr. James Shea, president of the University of Mary.